Read 6 minutes
The opinions of entrepreneurs' contributors are their own.
Have you ever tried to come up with a new business idea? Some entrepreneurs take the idea for granted – maybe it came from a familiar industry or there was an unsolved problem that the founder experienced firsthand. But not every aspiring founder has a clear idea of what exactly the company should do. So where do i start?
Many business schools recommend a fixed phrase: Start by identifying a problem in the world or in your life. Then develop a solution. There are of course other methods as well – such as assessing personal abilities and skills, design thinking, market research and so on. But one element is often overlooked or left behind.
This element is meaning. It's not just the driving force behind a company; it can also be the seed of a business idea.
Purpose over problem
With this alternative phrase, determination – both individual and company – comes first and helps guide the rest of the process. Quickly forget about creating your company mission as a last minute addition to your pitch deck. Instead, try asking yourself the following questions before you even start:
What is my personal purpose? What purpose do I want to work towards with my company? What are the ultimate goals that drive my ambition?
When you've done some initial thinking, see if you can go any deeper. You may have heard of the Five Whys method, originally used in a business context, to get to the bottom of a problem. Here you can also apply it to your own destination finding journey. Ask yourself, "What is my personal goal?" Come up with an answer. Then question that answer by asking, "Why?" Repeat five times (hence the five whys) to get closer to the core of what drives you. This is essential – not just as a personal self-awareness initiative, but as a central aspect of your business plan.
For example, let's say you start with the following answer: "My goal is to be successful at work." Why? Maybe it's because you'd be happy if your job went well. Why? You might see how your work affects others and that makes you proud. Why? Because you want to get important tasks done. Why? Because you want to feel that your work is contributing to the world or giving something back. Why? You may want to feel like you have left the world for a better place and it is important to you that your work reflects the values you believe in.
There is no right or wrong way to do this with this method. It's just a tool to help you explore your intentions more deeply. You don't have to have an answer to changing the world either. If it matters to you (e.g., living with authenticity, caring for your family, or connecting with your community) it should be included.
Back to business
Let's say you've discovered a fundamental sense of purpose or you've taken a closer look at your personal mission. What now? There are several ways that you can make a business plan purposeful.
First, you can go back to the traditional model, find a problem in an existing market and then look for a solution. This time, however, look at it through the lens of the target. To take a general example, if your goal was to "create happiness for others" (borrowed from the Disney Institute), you can look at your market problem through this lens. How could you find a solution to your problem that not only serves a functional, for-profit outcome, but also serves your goal of maximizing happiness? The use of the purpose lens may lead you to a different solution to the problem or to a different approach to the problem.
Second, with your single-mindedness, you can formulate the business idea yourself and localize your market, your problem and your solution. Take the beauty disruptor Glossier as an example. Her corporate mission statement is “democratize beauty” and “give a voice through beauty”. For Glossier, the result is a consumer-centric company with an emphasis on inclusivity. However, if you start with the mission statement alone, you can come up with hundreds of other ideas that are aligned with the same purpose. This is a process of creativity and when thinking about developing your own business ideas you can use your personal sense of purpose as a starting point.
Finally, you can realign an existing business idea to reflect your personal mission and purpose. Let's say you've already seen a market problem, found a solution, validated with consumers, and started building. Determination is still an important part of your strategy no matter what stage you are at. At this later point in time, try to find out exactly what needs you are meeting for your customers or users. This can go a level deeper than just a product or service. Think about values, experience and personal connection. From there, you can work backwards to see what purpose your business is serving.
The purpose of the purpose
What is the point of all this purpose-finding work? When it comes to an entrepreneurial lifestyle – long working hours, perseverance, exhaustion – does a sense of purpose help? In fact, research shows that it is.
A recent study by the Harvard Business Review suggests that entrepreneurs with a sense of “harmonious passion” (d “obsessive passion” (ie, motivated by the job based on status, money, or other external rewards).
From a practical standpoint, building a strong corporate purpose in my own startup has given me clarity at every later stage in the process – pitching potential investors, formulating business strategy, and providing a vision for the future.
On a more personal level, a sense of purpose can provide the energy and drive you need to keep working at your company, day after day, year after year. Once the initial excitement of a new project wears off and you are left with the difficult, consistent work of building your business, you have a solid foundation of meaning, mission, and purpose to support you.